06 January 2007

4 vs 3

Tonight I watched the two DVD set of "Ten Minutes Older" a compilation of 15 short films by 15 different directors. Despite Jim Jarmusch, Wim Wenders, and Spike Lee being among the directors, I was basically unimpressed. There was a Mike Figgis piece called "A Staircase - About Time 2" which used the same 4-panel split screen as Figgis' 2000 quantum experiment Timecode but the story wasn't compelling and the imagery was gaudy.

I vividly remember seeing Timecode when it came out at the Dupont Circle theaters in DC. I went alone and was thoroughly captivated by the experience. If quantum cinema is the cinema of multiple universes, then here was a film that interpreted that premise by showing the views of four cameras at all times. Like a video installation for four monitors packaged for the big screen, this technique pushes the limits of our perception with four simultaneous points of view. To hold our concentration on one thing at a time, Figgis mixed the audio higher in the quadrant that ought to command our attention.

Whereas Greenaway's mini-frames have always bothered me for their cut-and-paste aesthetic, Figgis' approach is a step up. It allows dramatic tension to rise and fall by creating suspense across the four quadrants. When two quadrants reveal the same subject from different angles there is an immediate gut-level "ah-ha!" which is quite pleasing.

On the other hand, I wonder if four frames is too many for the visual sense. I have the feeling that perhaps three is a magic number in this regard. My friend Tobi Wootton has done a piece with three simultaneous video angles which works exceptionally well. Four seems to be just above a threshold that guarantees that a substantial portion of what happens will remain subconscious or unconscious. Perhaps some directors find that acceptable. Certainly there is an argument for keeping subtle cinematic information buried, only to be revealed upon multiple viewings.

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